Even Dogs Sometimes Need Anxiety Medication

anxious dog laying downAs anyone who’s ever lived with a dog can attest, dogs’ emotions are complex and occasionally bewildering. And for some dogs, emotions are overwhelming. Whether they’re tearing up the house in sheer terror because a beloved owner leaves for a few hours, or they’re shamelessly snarling and lunging at every dog who walks by, some dogs struggle to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

The science of dog behavioral pharmacology aims to help exhausted pet owners and their stressed-out four-legged companions. Although it was once controversial to prescribe mental health medications to dogs, the pioneering work of Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a Tufts University veterinarian, has steadily moved dog psychology into the mainstream.

Do Dogs Need Mental Health Medication?

The behaviorism of the early twentieth century would have you believe that dogs are little more than machines reacting to their environment. But dogs have much of the same brain circuitry as humans, and when brain chemistry goes haywire, so too can a dog’s behavior. A recent article in The Atlantic, for example, tells the tales of dogs whose behavior miraculously changed after getting the right prescription medication.

Veterinarians typically rely on human medications rather than special formulations for dogs. An anxious or depressed dog is almost as likely to be prescribed Prozac as an anxious or depressed human. The dosage has to be adjusted to reflect the size difference between dogs and humans, of course, and veterinarians sometimes have to do some tweaking to find a medication that works.

How to Tell If Your Dog Needs Help

Medication isn’t a panacea for everything. You still have to socialize your dog and train him or her to be friendly and obedient. Reward-based training methods often improve the behavior of even the stubbornest dogs. If your dog seems untrainable or does things that put her health and safety in danger, though, she could be struggling with a mental health issue. It’s not safe to give your dog your own medication, but if you see any of the following symptoms, it’s time to consult your veterinarian:

  • Sudden unexplained aggression
  • Extreme fear of being left alone that may manifest in the form of destructiveness or escape attempts
  • Constant barking, growling, or whining
  • Obsessive behavior, such as constant licking even when your dog doesn’t have fleas or a wound
  • Unexplained fear
  • Symptoms such as excessive panting, drooling, or pacing

Not all veterinarians embrace pharmacological options for dogs’ mental health. If you want to give medication a try, you’ll need to call vets and ask whether they offer pharmacological solutions for behavioral problems.

References:

  1. Beaver, B. V. (2009). Canine behavior: Insights and answers. St. Louis, MO: Saunders/Elsevier.
  2. Fisher, T. (2014, May 02). Dogs get anxiety, too. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/dogs-who-take-prozac/360146/
  3. Psychological disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dogsnsw.org.au/resources/dogs-nsw-magazine/articles/health/177-psychological-disorders.html

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  • Cora

    May 7th, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    Please tell me that I am not reading this right.
    My dog could need anti-anxiety medication?
    Look, if I have to put her on anti-anxiety medication you are just gonna have to put me under the floor because i can barely afford the little that I have to take, much less for her.
    Don’t you think that this is taking things just a little too far? That maybe some easy behavior modification kinds of efforts could make as much of a difference?

  • cam

    May 28th, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    Dogs only need it under extremes circumstances dogs are pack animals when there family leaves them there anxiety starts up that is why they chew things up out of fear and trying to let you know how they feel and they are pissed off you left having your dogs around multiple people having them pet him/her rotating laying down with them sleeping or taking a nap will do it being under socialized medication is a temporary fix to problems learn about ahissma dog training where you use there own body language to communicate with them when they lick there lips that is a calming signal, turning there head away is one also dogs don’t like eye contact it is intimidation to them when they give a big sigh that is a big sign of relaxation, when they yawn and squeak they are releaving stress from something hope this helps with

  • delia s

    May 8th, 2014 at 3:31 AM

    I swear I have never ehard anything like this. I have heard of the dog whisperer and such but never resorting to medications for things that maybe a good dog trainer could help with. These sound like issues that could be easily fixable and treatable without the help of medication. Of course we all know that there are plenty of humans with comparable problems who could not make it through the day without their medications but still, I don’t think that a dog should have to be like that.

  • JO

    May 9th, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    I know that there are some haters out there, but my dog is like my baby. I will take care of her right up until the end if I thought that this was something that she needed to have a more comfortable life and my very agreed, then I would do it. We do it for humans and for ourselves, why should our pets be any different? They struggle with fears and anxieties too, and they don’t have any way to verbalize any of that to us. I understand that this could be a little outside of the box for the way we normally would care for our pets but if we are truthful about egtting on the same page about mental health and we are trying to raise just as much awareness about this as we do physical problems, then why not? Why not treat them the same way we did for any human who struggles with similar problems?

  • Dolly

    May 10th, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    Terrible thought here, but I do hope that the medicine for dogs is different than what i would be prescribed because you know that there are some drug searchers who would probably kill to have access to even more drugs!

  • Michelle

    October 13th, 2022 at 8:42 AM

    My dog who is one and a long haired Chihuahua has severe anxiety. If you have dog who needs medication you will definitely know it and want to make your dog comfortable. My dog very spoiled, I luv her sooo much has severe anxiety. Scared to drink water in kitchen she feels as if the kitchens gonna fall on on her. You will definitely know if a dog needs something so you probably won’t understand until you see first hand. I have took her since she laid in my arms like a newborn baby into stores always encouraged her to luv people and it’s her breed. She has severe separation anxiety which I left her once n she was extremely panicked when I came back 35 mins later. I try to not leave her alone which Is my fault I should left each day Small amounts of time. Cause it’s sad I can’t leave to run to store n thank God my grandfather sits with her if I do. But she repeats yawning and nibbling on her pawns severe anxiety signs.. I could go on and on. But if you have a dog excepecially Chihuahua you will understand as no dog should live with such fearfulness of everything. So sad. I take my baby to vet today. I pray she gets some relief

  • Dawn

    October 22nd, 2022 at 1:34 PM

    MY dog is rat terrier,chihuahua,pitbull.Australian Shepard. Really smart,and a good dog.I have taken her to the vet,groomer,inside stores since she was a pup.She is now a year and four months and still gets nervous about alot of things.Her legs will start shaking.I have asked my groomer if she thought she needed to be on anxiety meds they said no but I think we will visit the vet for a opinion.

  • Lynne

    March 3rd, 2023 at 4:42 AM

    For those scoffing about a dog needing anxiety meds saying they just need trained, imagine this: every time people use fireworks, shoot a gun (we live in the country where people frequently target practice and hunt),any loud noise, or it rains, your dog suddenly freaks. She will try to hide. Get under the bed, chair etc that you are on no matter how small the space. Or alternately, she will crawl on top of you like a small child. This isn’t a tiny teacup that might get easily hurt. It’s a muscular, > 100lb German Shepherd. It’s obvious she’s scared because the whole time she has a panicked look in her eyes and is panting like she just came back from chasing a deer. One day I was laying down and had the door closed. It started raining and she tore through a solid wood door to get to me. These behaviors continue for up to 24 hrs after the event. Spring is hell with the rain.she won’t eat or drink during all this. She is MISERABLE!
    Now, wouldn’t you want to help her? We tried behavior modification .

  • Tiffany

    July 3rd, 2023 at 11:40 PM

    I really need some advice. I have a 5 month old Doberman puppy and he is extremely hyper and anxious. He will lash out with uncontrollable biting and when we put him in his crate to give him a time out all you hear is loud heartbreaking cries. It hurts me to hear it. We are up every night with him to at least 2am to 4am. He just will not calm down and relax. Vets say it’s normal but I know in my heart that it’s not. I know he needs medication but I don’t know how to express to the vet that it’s not normal puppy play or behavior. There is something mentally wrong with him and I’d do anything to get him some help. My bf is ready to sell him but I just don’t have the heart to do that either. I love him so much but I’ve come to the end of my rope as well. I’m just lost

  • Tiffany

    July 3rd, 2023 at 11:42 PM

    Were you able to get medication for your dog?

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